DIY summer camps for kids

A camp counselor also called "Mom" hands out scavenger hunt sheets for the littles to challenge their nature observation skills.

Are you scrambling to find engaging activities for your kids this summer? With many summer camps canceled, families are developing their own set of weeklong activities for smaller groups of children. Some are hiring a neighborhood teen as a camp counselor to bring energy and ideas.

To get started, ask your kids what they most look forward to about camp, then help them figure out which aspects you can recreate at home. That may mean field games like capture the flag or flashlight tag, mini cereal boxes at breakfast, camp songs, arts and craft projects, cooking experiments, trying a new outdoor sport and learning something new about the environment with a nature lesson.

“Summer” and “outside” go hand in hand. Take advantage of the local opportunities. Head to a park in a nearby town that you've never visited and try a hike there. Your kids will be intrigued by the change of scenery. Never gone geocaching before? Then grab your phone, download the app and give it a try.

Although many national and state parks and museums are not offering their usual summer youth and family activities, there are still plenty of opportunities to learn about nature from the experts.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is offering evening programs each night (except Monday) at 7:30 on various nature topics such as clouds, soundscapes, night skies, unloved birds and more. Spaces are limited because of social distancing so call ahead to make a reservation 970-249-1914, ext. 423. Gather a picnic dinner, arrive at the South Rim Visitor Center by 5:30-6 p.m. to pick up a junior ranger booklet and badge. You will have plenty of time to drive to one of the overlooks for a picnic, a short hike and arrive at the amphitheater by 7:30 p.m. for the 45 minute interpretive talk. Follow up with activities from the booklet. The Park also offers a one hour geology talk every day at 9 a.m. — meet at the South Rim Visitor Center (reservations required).

In addition to the Junior Ranger program offered year-round, Colorado National Monument will be offering a self-guided family program at the visitor center that incorporates wildlife, STEM experiments and paper crafts. Due to COVID-19, programs may adjust with little notice. Call ahead to learn more — 970-858-3617, ext. 360

Ridgway State Park is an Agents of Discovery Mission Site with three trails offering nature-based challenge questions. It is a mobile educational gaming platform similar to “Pokémon Go” creatively using augmented reality to encourage youth and their families to explore the park in a fun, new way. The park also provides age specific junior ranger booklets that offer a more traditional way for kids to explore. Stop off at the visitor center for more information.

Family naturalist hikes are being offered by The Nature Connection to various local spots. Learn about flowers, fungi and flying friends along the Crag Crest Trail, Grand Mesa National Forest on Saturday, Aug. 1. Another family naturalist hike to Flowing Park, Grand Mesa National Forest is scheduled for Aug. 15. Call ahead to make reservations at 970-872-5910.

Can you imagine what might have lived here during the ice age? Museums of the West offer some amazing resources for parents to engage their children in the curiosities of the past.

The teacher resources on their website (https://museumofwesternco.com/visit/) are great for parents too. You can find online tours, interpretative videos, and trail guides to several dinosaur trails filled with fossils and tracks. Each museum has downloadable activities to extend the experience like scavenger hunts, and designing your own pottery.

Nature often can bring out the inner artist in your child. There are plenty of ideas for nature inspired arts and crafts. Splurge on some supplies! “Your True Nature” provides unique art and writing ideas inspired by the natural world such as creating a nature guide, camera-less photos, “A,B,C What do I see?,” leaf drawings, and more.

Summer is also a great time to teach your child basic outdoor survival skills. Turn a day hike or a camping trip into a teachable moment. There are several websites describing the outdoor survival skills such as how to find clean water, how to build a shelter, how to build a fire (with a flint) and properly extinguish it, how to dress for weather and the environment, how to find your way, and most importantly to “hug a tree” if you get lost (nasar.org).

Bird nests and baby birds are sure to grab your young ones attention during the summer. Now is a great time to encourage broader observations of birds and even learn the basics of birding.

Start by identifying nine local birds. Friends of Youth and Nature is sponsoring a “Birds of a feather contest” for ages 5-19. Download and complete the bird ID worksheet, and send it in. The contest ends Aug. 8 and winners are awarded binoculars! More information at (https://www.friendsofyouthandnature.org/).

Every kid under 12 needs to make sure they are checking off activities on the list. It’s the list of 100 things every kid absolutely has to do before they are 12. No doubt there are a few things that can be checked off this summer such as making a worm hotel, or a sock garden, baking some tasty s'mores in a sun oven or making a soda bottle sprinkler. Need the list? You can download it from generationwild.com. Also, get video instructions on some pretty cool backyard hacks.

Here on the Western Slope of Colorado, we have the best “backyard” in the world. You don’t have to go far for some great outdoor adventures. Check our website at www.friendsofyouthandnature.org under “providers” and “resources for teachers and parents” for more ideas. With a bit of planning and preparation, an activity filled DIY camp for kids is as easy as a walk in a park!

Friends of Youth and Nature is a nonprofit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to get outside, experience outdoor activities, and explore nature. To learn more, visit: www.friendsofyouthandnature.org.

Anne Janik, Friends of Youth and Nature

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